I always knew when the day came to write this column, it would be hard. I just didn’t know how hard.

This is not the column I expected to pen. It was supposed to be about plans to retire at the end of this year, a book idea on the horizon, about friendships and volunteer work I hope to nurture, trips we might take. In fact, that column had been written and sat ready to go.

Then came Friday, Dec. 4 when the script flipped. My husband, Brian, was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

While I’ve wrestled for a while with the when of retiring, Brian and I decided it would happen this year. Only now do I know how my purpose meshes with that timing: It is to care for the man who has cared for me so well for so long.

We need to do everything we can to keep him around. That involves chemo, surgery and whatever special comforts of home I can provide. I told Brian that he’s my project now.

We have great hope and faith, and Brian sums it up this way: “It’s up to The Big Guy and to the doctors. If it can be beat, I’ll whip it. I’m no quitter.”

My first impulse on Dec. 4 was to tell the paper I’m leaving early, but Brian didn’t like that. Not surprising from a guy who during his career almost never (ever) took a sick or personal day. On rare occasions when he missed work, it was because someone in the family was ill and had to go for tests or to the hospital.

To say he’s no quitter is an understatement, and he didn’t want me quitting early, either. He said I need to finish well. I also knew that he thought it would be best for us to maintain as much normalcy as possible for as long as “normal” is part of our vocabulary.

In the original goodbye column, I told stories of moments that stand out as your Neighbors Editor. Such as the woman who emailed to thank the paper for the great job with her 50th-wedding anniversary. That was nice, but what came next floored me. She said she knew we’d do it right because her wedding write-up was so good 50 years ago.

Even though I had nothing to do with the wedding article, I felt humbled by the trust and long-standing relationship she has with her local paper.

That, in a nutshell, is why I’ve always thought local newspapers are vital. Trust. Traditionally, reading a newspaper is a shared community experience as people gather around their respective kitchen tables, in their recliners or on their front porches and read what others in the community are reading about local happenings, politics, achievements, viewpoints and features.

I am honored to have been part of newspapering for more than four decades, working on high school, college and community newspapers. The bulk of my career, though, is at this one where Henry County became my second home.

If I could do it all over again, I’d start today! To go back to being 30 years old with a 3-year-old son and another one to arrive two years later? Yes!

To interview and write about some of the nicest people on the planet? Sign me up!

To share the challenges you’ve overcome, the lessons learned, the heart-soaring God moments as well as the funny stories? To write about the unusual situations and eccentric characters who make up this readership? My pleasure!

Of course, it doesn’t work that way. That’s the thing about goodbyes – you find yourself wanting to stay.

Meanwhile, the memories flood in. The first interview 31 years ago was with then-Chamber of Commerce Director Nadine Kirkpatrick. Nadine and my paths pleasantly crossed many times, and when she passed at age 99, on the table of memorabilia at her calling there sat that newspaper article.

The first evening event I covered was Extension Homemakers’ County Club Nite. As a 10-year 4-Her and forever farm girl, I see these ladies as my people. In fact, when I told one of them I was retiring, she said I should join a Henry County club. When my life’s smoke clears, I just might!

I think of the 4-H and Mooreland (world’s) fairs, the Wilbur Wright Birthplace and its faithful band of volunteers, the Caleb Kinnaird heart transplant, the guy who won millions in a lottery, Cordelia Wright’s llamas, recipe contests, a trip with Tom Saunders’ travel group to cover a presidential inauguration, seeing a World War II POW I wrote about recognized on the Indiana Statehouse floor with more than one standing ovation, the Teapot Club consisting of winsome English war brides. I could go on with hundreds more examples.

The stories, the experiences, the kindness; the people I’ve worked with, laughed with and who have become dear, trusted friends over these three decades have given me more than I could have ever given them.

There is no greater professional honor than having been entrusted to tell your stories.

I’ve got one more her magazine to finish. Ends of years and project deadlines don’t always coincide.

Maybe we’ll still get to make some stories together down the road. I hope so, and plan to trade in my Neighbors Editor status for that of occasional correspondent.

Do contact me with a special story idea or events you think I should cover. If I can’t get to them, I’ll pass your ideas on to the newsroom. You’ll find me at newsgirl.1958@gmail.com. I’m on Facebook at Donna Jobe Cronk.

If you have Neighborly news, please contact Managing Editor Travis Weik at tweik@thecouriertimes.com or call him at 765-575-4651.

For now it’s time to be there for my fella. Caring for him will surely make for the defining moments of my life.

I love you, Henry County readers. Thanks for everything. And if you see fit, please lift a prayer for us. We’d be eternally grateful.

Neighbors Editor Donna Cronk retires on Dec. 30 after more than 31 years in that post.